Can I use red or brown instead of white miso paste? [How to substitute]

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  February 8, 2021

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Many Japanese recipes call for a special ingredient called “Shiro miso” or white miso.

If you’re making instant miso soup or ramen, you’ll definitely come across this ingredient in the recipe.

So, what can you do if you don’t have white miso paste? Maybe you’ve found the red or brown variety at the grocery shop.

Can I use red or brown instead of white miso paste

You’re probably wondering if you can use that instead?

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You can substitute white miso with red or brown miso because it is similar in texture and flavor and they’re both fermented miso paste. But, the darker miso is stronger and saltier in flavor, so use about half of the white miso amount in your recipe, or add a teaspoon of mirin or sugar to sweeten it and make it milder.

That way, you’ll get the same flavor as if you use white miso.

Red or brown miso has a strong taste and it’s often too different and salty to use the same amount, so you must sweeten it if you don’t want to alter the food’s flavor too much.

White miso is most often used in light soups, salad dressings, desserts, and as a glaze for vegetables. It has a slightly chunky texture but you can use it for all types of recipes.

Substituting white for a darker miso will obviously change the appearance of those dishes as well, but there’s really no reason not to try the red or brown variety too!

Substitute red or brown miso for white

How can you substitute red miso instead of white?

Recipes that call for white miso don’t require a strong, pungent miso flavor; thus, be careful not to overpower your food’s flavor with red miso.

You’re likely asking, “Should you change the amount of miso in the recipe?”

How to use red miso instead of white
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How to use red or brown miso instead of white

You can follow this quick rule to ensure the dish retains the sweetness of white miso even if you’re using red or brown.
Prep Time1 min
Total Time1 min
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: Japanese
Keyword: Miso, miso paste
Yield: 1 serving
Author: Joost Nusselder
Cost: $0

Materials

  • ½ tbsp red miso paste (or brown, which is the same)
  • 1 tsp mirin

Instructions

  • Whenever you add a tablespoon for red or brown miso, add ONE TEASPOON of mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine) or a teaspoon of white sugar.
  • You can also add less red miso and just change the amount. Add half a tablespoon of miso for every tablespoon of white miso instead.

As a general rule, if your recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of white miso, use half a tablespoon of red or brown miso or add 1 teaspoon of mirin to 1 tablespoon of red miso for the sweetness.

If you want to keep the exact salinity of white miso in your ramen, then there’s something you should keep in mind.

The ideal miso soup has a salinity of 10%, which is the salinity level of white miso. In ramen soup, it’s common to add one tablespoon of white miso.

So, to keep it just as salty, mix ½ tablespoon of red or brown miso instead.

Red and brown miso both have a similar salinity and flavor, so that you can use them interchangeably.

This doesn’t alter the soup’s flavor so much as it just makes it milder. Besides the color, you likely won’t even notice a big difference.

What is red or brown miso?

In Japanese, red miso is called Aka Miso, and it has a dark red or brownish color.

When they make red miso, they let the soybeans and barley ferment for a longer period of up to 3 years.

Therefore, this type of miso takes on a more pungent, strong flavor. It is much saltier than white miso.

Red miso is used in various hearty dishes such as soups, braizes, glazes, and marinades. But, since it has a strong taste, it can overwhelm mild dishes.

The best time to use red miso is when the recipe calls for dark miso.

What’s the difference between red, white, and brown miso?

As I stated earlier, the red and brown miso varieties are more pungent and saltier because they ferment for a lot longer. The white miso is less salty and it has a sweet mild taste.

Another difference is that white miso is made by fermenting soybeans with koji and a large quantity of rice.

Red or brown miso, on the other hand, is made by fermenting soybeans with barley, and it takes on a dark color.

When you cook with red miso, it makes your dish turn brown, but the taste is still great.

Using white miso makes it turn a light yellow color, similar to what you get when you add milk.

Read more about the different types of miso? [full guide to miso]

Do red and white miso taste the same?

Since you want to substitute the white miso with red or brown, you should know that there is a difference in flavor.

While all have a similar fermented food taste, the darker miso is much more salty, potent and it has an earthy, umami flavor.

The white miso, has a light, mellow flavor which is slightly salty and a bit sweet.

Is red or white miso healthier?

All the miso varieties are healthy because they’re fermented foods.

Miso is packed with protein and since it’s a fermented food, it is full of enzymes and beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that improve and aid digestion.

Miso is also a source of copper, zinc, vitamin B, and vitamin K.

In terms of carbohydrate content, red miso has more carbs while white miso is low carb.

The one key fact to note is that red miso is saltier than white, so if you can’t have salty foods, suffer from diabetes or other illnesses, be careful about dark miso’s high sodium content.

All three types of miso are healthy and the truth is, there’s not much information as to which is healthiest, since they all provide the same health benefits (albeit with different saltiness).

So, ultimately, it comes down to your flavor preferences.

What kind of miso paste should I buy for the most versatility?

When you have white miso on hand, you can use it for all dishes, but you might have to increase the quantity if you want the most umami and salty flavors.

If you want to have to most versatile miso that you can use for all dishes, try the awase miso, which a mix of red and white.

It’s a great miso because it combines the best of both, so you still have that rich flavor of the red miso and a hint of sweetness from the white.

If you want to make it taste more like white, use less, and if you want it to be strong, use more.

Awase miso is excellent for miso soup and as a glaze for ribs and fish.

Next time you’re in search of flavorful miso but don’t have white, you can use all types interchangeably by sweetening them!

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.